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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Mixed Feelings

Some of you may have wondered why I haven't commented on the recent events in Israel. I refer, or course, to the evacuation of the Israeli settlements in the occupied Gaza strip. I have, after all, mentioned on previous occasions that I am rather sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, so these events should please me. Indeed, I am rather excited to see Israel withdrawing from land taken in wartime and settled on in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

As a side note: for anyone who wants to make the observation, yes, I do think my own country, the United States of America, is in violation of the Geneva Conventions in its treatment of "enemy combatants" in the Guantanamo Bay facility. Likewise is true of the Abu Ghraib facility. I don't like either of those things, and consider them stains on the national honor of the United States. So, even if this is a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black, at least the pot is pissed off about its own coloration.

In any case, while I am happy to see Israel withdrawing from Gaza, and commend them for it, I guess the entire thing is a little bittersweet for me. The Israeli settlers, many of whom moved into the occupied territories in an attempt to blackmail their own government, are receiving the sort of sympathetic media attention that Palestinian civilians, many of whom are entirely innocent of terrorism, are frequently denied. I can't put into words the full extent of my uncertainty at this moment so, instead, I will rely on the words of another. Without futher ado, allow me to introduce Mr. Jonathan Steele. I do not agree with all he says, but I think he does sum up the misgivings many feel at the present moment.

There was no 'sensitivity training' when bulldozers went into Rafah

Jonathan Steele
Friday August 19, 2005
The Guardian

Contrast the world's overwhelming coverage, especially on television, of the departure of Israeli settlers from Gaza with the minimal reporting of larger and more brutal evictions in previous months.

There was no "sensitivity training" for Israeli troops, no buses to drive the expellees away, no generous deadlines to get ready, no compensation packages for their homes, and no promise of government-subsidised alternative housing when the bulldozers went
into Rafah.

Within sight of the Gush Katif settlements that have been handled with such kid gloves this week, families in Rafah were usually given a maximum of five minutes' warning before their houses, and life savings, were crushed. Many people did not even have time to go upstairs to collect belongings when the barking of loudspeakers
ordered them out, sometimes before dawn. Fleeing with their children in the night, they risked being shot if they turned round or delayed.

As many as 13,350 Palestinians were made homeless in the Gaza Strip in the first 10 months of last year by Israel's giant armour-plated Caterpillar bulldozers - a total that easily exceeds the 8,500 leaving Israeli settlements this week. In Rafah alone, according to figures from the UN relief agency Unrwa, the rate of house demolitions rose from 15 per month in 2002 to 77 per month between January and October 2004.

Parts of Rafah now resemble areas of Kabul or Grozny. Facing Israeli army watchtowers and the concrete wall that runs close to the Gaza Strip's boundary, rows of rubble and ruined homes stretch for hundreds of yards.

The house where I stayed three years ago, which was then one row back from the frontline, has gone. So have three more lines of houses behind it, thanks to Israel's remorseless policy of clearing the zone for "security" reasons even after Ariel Sharon announced his plan to leave Gaza.

Palestinians who visit the ruins or try to use one or two rooms that survived the onslaught risk their lives from Israeli bullets. A warning shot rang out as one homeowner took me on to his roof in broad daylight last month to survey the miserable scene. We quickly came down.

These cruel evictions have of course been reported, and some foreigners who tried to block or record them, such as Rachel Corrie, Tom Hurndall, and James Miller, paid with their lives alongside scores of murdered local Palestinians. But coverage was never as comprehensive or intense as this week's removals of Israelis. Sharon wanted the world's media to see the protracted agony of the settlers, so as to make the (spurious) point that if it is hard to get 8,500 to leave Gaza, getting 400,000 to withdraw from the West Bank and east Jerusalem will be impossible. However sincere the settlers' grief is at leaving their homes, for the organisers of the retreat it was theatre of the cynical.

The exaggerated focus on the settlement evictions has some benefits. Those who claim, genuinely or dishonestly, that the world's media are biased in favour of Palestinians had their argument collapse this week. TV viewers around the world have also been exposed to the ugly sight of rampant religious fundamentalism.

As they were dragged off, some Israeli zealots had no shame in minimising the Holocaust, absurdly comparing unarmed Israeli police to the Gestapo. Others used racist insults. "Jews do not expel Jews," they shouted, presumably wanting to imply that only non-Jews do it. They apparently did not realise that most people will see the irony in terms of contemporary rather than historical events - "Jews do not expel Jews... Jews expel Arabs."

Perhaps the ugliest part of the Israeli settlers' behaviour was their corruption of youth, with parents instigating their children to wrap themselves in prayer shawls and sob or shriek defiance.

No one who spends time in Gaza's Palestinian communities can avoid being saddened by the ubiquitous focus on the gun, which also diverts children from normal growing up. It appears on graffiti everywhere alongside the names and faces of those who died by violence, in suicide attacks or shot down by Israeli fire. Almost every teenage boy aspires to use a Kalashnikov or hand grenade. At a recent wedding, I saw a dancing mother twirl a rifle in both hands above her head like the baton of a majorette.

Trapped in their Israeli-enforced ghetto, Gazans can at least claim that this pervasive and corrupting militarism is the legacy of a decades-long national resistance movement to defend land that belongs to them. Islam is part of the mix, but religion follows the national flag. For many Israeli settlers in Gaza that dynamic was reversed. Religion was their driving force, and they had no individual or national right to the land on which they built their armed camps.

Israel's worst practices from Gaza are likely to be transferred to the West Bank now. Controls over freedoms in the West Bank have been tightened relentlessly in recent years. More roads were closed. More checkpoints sprang up. Walls and fences were extended, in defiance of the international court of justice's ruling that they are illegal. However, even with this creeping oppression, life in the West Bank is not yet as constricted as it was for those in Gaza.

That will probably change. Sharon - one of whose nicknames, appropriately, is Bulldozer - wants to expand the West Bank settlements and demolish more Palestinian homes around Jerusalem. Unless his strategy of unilateralism is blocked, evictions may reach Rafah-like proportions.

The break-up of the settlements will give those in Gaza freedom to move within their narrow enclave, but this benefit may be outweighed by the West Bank's losses. One of the worst places in Gaza used to be the Abu Houli crossing, a tunnel for Palestinian vehicles that went under the road to the Israeli settlements of Gush Katif. At any moment Israeli Land Rovers or tanks would emerge to block the tunnel, leaving Palestinians stranded on what was the only road linking the north and south of Gaza. Pregnant mothers could not get to hospital. Relatives missed weddings. Students failed to reach their colleges to take exams.

Israel intends to build at least 16 gated crossings in the West Bank. It is one thing to have segregated roads - a step that America's Deep South and apartheid South Africa never reached. But to insist on the right to block even those roads that are allocated to Palestinians is grotesque. The West Bank will be sliced into a series of ghettoes that Israeli forces can isolate at will. Whatever the security
justification, the effect is to impose collective punishment on every Palestinian.

No one should be surprised if, in the face of such injustice, Palestinian anger and resistance grow.

[links added]


I hope Mr. Steele is incorrect- I hope the moves by Sharon and Israel are genuine bids for peace, and that they are met willingly by the Palestinians in a sense of compromise. Further, I commend Sharon, a man often referred to as "the Butcher" in the Arab world for his alleged involvement in the Sabra and Shatila massacres, for taking these steps towards real justice. I fear, however, that the past few weeks of anguish among the settlers may, in the eyes of many around the world, overshadow the suffering the Palestinians have endured for 50 years. There are malicious and calculating men on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict who would take advantage of such a shadow, and no good can come of it for any who desires peace.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have discussed the evictions in Israel with many of my friends and we all reached the same conclusion, or rather question - why? Why should Sharon suddenly relent? I agree with you that I hope that the gesture is genuine, but with Sharon in power, frankly I think it's unlikely.

TDEC

Wednesday, August 24, 2005 7:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, like TDEC, have doubts. These doubts were reinforced when listening to press coverage in the US, when one press outlet (I don’t remember which one. Since I believed it, I’m guessing it was CNN) stated in passing that “many” of the settlers being moved out of Gaza were being relocated in West Bank settlements. I’m not sure that moving settlers from one occupied land to another counts as withdrawing. Rather it would seem that it is a focusing of the current strategy, get as much land from the Palestinians as possible. As Sharon has stated, simple demographic shifts generated the need to pull out of Gaza. The Israeli military simply couldn’t hold back the Palestinian population forever. I’m guessing they think they have a much better shot of doing so in the West Bank.

Well, that’s my two cents.
FHRM

Wednesday, August 24, 2005 9:32:00 AM  
Blogger Inspire said...

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shalom and much love,

yehoshua

Saturday, October 22, 2005 7:09:00 PM  

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